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Netball Is Home: Leeds Rhinos

Leeds Rhinos fans are about to fall in love with Sigi Burger.

The effervescent South African international, who signed with the club in October, has more personality in her netball-gripping pinky finger than most people would ever dream of cultivating in a lifetime.

The 25-year-old goal attack and goal shooter will take to a Vitality Netball Superleague court in a Rhinos dress for the first time this evening, when the squad makes their home debut at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport (EIS).

“I’ve heard the county of Yorkshire are diehard netball enthusiasts,” gushes the former London Pulse crowd favourite.

“The thing that stood out massively with Rhinos was that they are a full-time programme, so the girls are every day in and out of the gym and on the court.

“It also just seems like in a county like Yorkshire and Leeds, where it’s not so massively busy as other huge cities, girls get more time to interact with each other and it becomes more like a team because you don’t have girls driving from all over the south of England to get to a team.

“Just through being together more and everything, it really became a team environment and it felt like a little family.

“Because I’m so far from home, I think family and feeling that part of something is massively important for me. Everyone lives like five minutes away from each other and it’s really easy.”

Fans attending the Valentine’s Day match tonight will be able to boast they were there for Rhinos’ first-ever home game: due to Covid concerns, last season was played out at two central venues, Wakefield’s Studio 001 and London’s Copper Box Arena.

The club hopes a season that will see them playing multiple matches at EIS, Hull’s Allam Sports Centre and Leeds’ First Direct Arena – where they’ll first host Wasps on March 6 – will build a county-wide fanbase.

Burger believes the club’s outreach work, which is set to include half term netball camps in Bradford, Harrogate, Normanton, Barnsley and Hull, will help engage new fans, while she’s also eager to welcome supporters of now-defunct side Yorkshire Jets, who folded in 2016.

“I always used to see on Twitter, ‘bring netball back to Yorkshire!’,” she recalls with a grin.

“I think the Jets set the fanbase, and I think it’s making people aware that we are bringing netball back home.

“[The three venues] means Rhinos have made it so accessible for everyone.”

Burger is one of a number of new faces for the club who earned a trip to Finals Day in their debut season last year.

Rebekah Airey was on the Manchester Thunder squad that beat Rhinos in the third-place play-off in June, but the versatile 25-year-old, who can play goal keeper, goal defence and wing attack will look to shut down her former side when Leeds travel to the Midlands for a March 12 rematch.

The 2022 squad includes a large number of returnees, including Vitality Roses stalwart Jade Clarke and rising England star Rhea Dixon, who scored 194 goals for her side last season.

Former Malaysia boss Tracey Robinson will try to lead Leeds to their first Grand Final after Dan Ryan stepped down to return to his native Australia.

And Burger was adamant home support could make all the difference in Rhinos’ push to make more history this year.

She added: “I think it’s about getting a fanbase in every location, and if you are a fan we would love to see you at the games, because it would mean so much to us to have you there.”

You can buy tickets to Leeds Rhinos’ home matches here.

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